To lovers of the country and those with artistic souls, the itinerary to Exeter provides a sublime feast of nature.
The following article was written on August 24th, 1930 by an admirer of the first bus service through Lapford. It not only provides a record of the landscape, features and people of the day, but joyfully expresses the pleasure and excitement of early bus travel. Part 5 covers the ride through Lapford village.
The Chulmleigh to Exeter bus route was started in July 1920 by Albert Turner who acted as chauffeur. His wife, May, later became its conductress. It earnt a reputation for its convivial humour and pleasant scenery. The little enterprise was named Turner’s Tours.
With time, the business took on numerous new routes and expanded into haulage, private coach hire and school bus services. Over three generations, Turner’s Tours remained a family business, transporting people and goods from mid-Devon to locations all over the country and continent. It continued to operate the Chulmleigh to Exeter bus (via Lapford) until 2018, when the licence to operate was surrendered due to ill health. It brought to an end 99 years of service to local communities.
The article, originally published in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, is reproduced here with additional illustrations and commentary on people and places mentioned.
1. The Good Morning and Smiles Bus
This is a narrative of a ride in one of the happiest motor charabancs imaginable; its engine runs easily, its movement is even, its passengers so agreeable a company, that it might quite well be called the “good morning and smiles bus.”
The start occurs from Chulmleigh, that picturesque village, high on one of the loveliest of North Devon hills, surrounded by verdant valleys and landscapes of rare beauty. There are few excitements, such as are the daily fare of the so-called centres of civilisation, no theatre or cinema, in this little place, therefore the weekly buses which travel—one to Exeter and one to Barnstaple—are important. To lovers of the country and those with artistic souls, the itinerary to Exeter provides a sublime feast of nature, for some of the stretches through which the course lies are nothing short of magnificent. Add a sense of humour and love of simplicity, and the journey becomes a veritable tonic.
The ” Shoffer” and “Conductress” are the proprietors, and a happier-natured young couple it would be hard to find; they lend their buses a distinct personality and call themselves Turner’s Tours.
They know everyone on the local roads and start collecting their passengers at the garage, then in the village, then at gateways, ends of lanes, cross-roads, and all sorts of spots.
This collecting of fares is very like wandering round picking mushrooms in August, for on the sunny days out they come in plenty, but on cold, cloudy days they are often scarcer.
An amusing incident occurred one morning, when a woman, who had rather much baggage, went to the garage early to secure the seat in the bus with most package accommodation. This done, and the parcels firmly planted on the seat, she returned to the road to while away the moments until starting time. A pleasant, elderly woman arrived on the scene, entered the garage, and sauntered out, to suggest more than once that the first woman should take her seat.
add a sense of humour
and love of simplicity,
and the journey becomes
a veritable tonic.
Wondering why, the latter prepared to grant the desire, when, in a voice which distinctly implied she wished to be asked the same question in return, the second woman asked the first if she had a favourite seat. The question duly returned, the reply was as follows: “Yes, I always like the one where those parcels are!” This sequel rendered the eagerness transparent, for as yet no one else had arrived for the bus, the method employed was comical to a degree.
2. Chumleigh to Dart Bridge
With this little digression, the bus starts off, leaves Chulmleigh way of Leigh Hill, passes down through an avenue of beech trees by Leigh House (once the residence of Lady Gertrude Rolle) with the grounds of Colleton Manor to the right.
It is a lovely hill looking Winkleigh way, and more than a mile in length, until at the foot it is crossed by the main Barnstaple—llfracombe —Exeter road (a highly dangerous crossroad). Turning to the left, the bus follows the Exeter road over Little Dart Bridge.
Lady Gertrude Rolle
Lady Rolle of Leigh House, Chulmleigh was the widow of Mark Rolle, once said to be Devon’s richest man and certainly its biggest landowner. As a consequence of her husband’s benefaction, Lady Rolle had regularly performed ceremonial duties including opening Exmouth hospital, digging the first turf of the Budleigh Salterton Railway line and laying the foundation stone of Exmouth Clocktower.
Lady Gertrude had previously resided at Bicton House and at Stevenstone House, 12 miles W of Chulmleigh. Stevenstone had been her husband’s great project . He wanted a building in rural Devon that could rival the grand chateaux of northern France. But the 27-room house wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Completed in 1876, it was a ruin by the 1940s.
3. Dart Bridge to Eggesford
On to the foot of lovely but steep Rock Hill; past the dear little wayside Taw Valley Cafe huts, and the famous Fox and Hounds Hotel, behind which, sad and lonely on a beautiful slope, stand the remains of Eggesford House, the old home of the Portsmouth family.
Above: Eggesford House in mock-Elizabethan splendour, and in ruins. The former home of the Earl of Portsmouth held little interest for the timber company who bought the vast estate and denuded its ancient forest during WW1. The forest subsequently became the country’s first Forest Commission site. The old house now breathes new life—a home has carefully been created behind the ruinous, put now preserved, façade.
Taw Valley Tea Room
The “little wayside Taw Valley Cafe huts” seen on the 1930 bus journey had only been open for a couple of years. The café was owned by a retired army officer, Major John Wheaton, together with Wheaton & Sons garage next door. The garage was originally established by John Altham, son of Lapford’s rector, Rev Altham Altham.
In the golden age of motoring the business did good trade selling and repairing motor cars and motor cycles. Mr. Wheaton’s son, Frank continued running the garage until his retirement in 1978.
The wooden tea-room was built next to the garage as an extension to the family bungalow. There was also a pleasant tea garden, approached through a flowering archway with views across the river valley. The Wheaton family also operated a post-office and taxi-service from the site.
The café stood between the A377 and River Taw as they swept around the promontory of Heywood Castle. The nearest village was Eggesford, with its small market, slaughterhouse, hotel and saw-mill It was 3 miles away, so efforts were needed to attract passing trade. There was a large inn-like sign on the opposite side of the road; it is believed the café was signed as “Potchey’s Tea Room”. Some trade may have come from Eggesford Tennis Club, 0.5 miles away, although the rural club boasted its own pavilion.
The café is long gone and the original family bungalow has been rebuilt. The garden was hard-surfaced to form a garage forecourt.
Taw Valley Garage continues to provide an important motor repair service to the surrounding rural community, today!
Click here for more information about the garage and tea room from the Taw Valley Garage website
4. Eggesford to Chawleigh
The pretty neat stone station of Eggesford lies by a bridge, from which salmon have been seen leaping high from the river, and it is here that the bus , begins to circumambulate, taking in the wide sweep, a hairpin bend back over the hill, which leads Chawleighwards. This is at first puzzling; it turns back away from the main road to Exeter. What is it up to? Not for long does the suspense last, for after negotiating sundry flocks of merrily-dyed sheep, a few timber-waggons, and cattle, to say nothing of a huge oil motor-lorry, the fairly narrow hill, it commences its mushroom gathering once more.
The climbing of this hill presents a panorama of scenic delight, Dartmoor being visible for miles across the intervening dales. Arrived “pin tap tho ‘eel,” the bus decants ” thicky there” old Guardsman (quite young), Mr. Drew, whose military career was cut short by the loss of leg in the war, and who mends the foot-gear of Chawleigh on Fridays, until the return of the bus in the evening.
A youth, who travelled by the bus to Minehead the day previously, with a late return, ambled over to the driver asking “Be you tired,” and at a nod, the boy remarked “I be too.”
Only occasionally is the Devon dialect prominent, with its “tetties, tayters, and tatties” for potatoes, its ” where go’an to?” its “clattering huzzies,” its “yet” for heat, its “go’an along,” “you baint,” and “thickey there.”
a panorama of scenic delight, Dartmoor being visible for miles across the intervening dales.
The Old Guardsman
The “Old Guardsman” who caught the bus each Friday was 36 year old Fred Drew, a sergeant in the Coldstream Guards during WW1. After loosing a leg in the war, he retrained on a government grant and became a boot and shoe repairer in Little Church Street, Chulmleigh. As he was unable to drive, the Turner’s Tours bus was invaluable, enabling him him to seek trade beyond Chulmleigh. He always visited Chawleigh on a Friday for shoe repair work.
Despite his war injury, he always considered himself fortunate. His battalion arrived in France eight days after war was declared and more than half had been killed within a month. Fred continued in action until September 15, 1916 when 400 men from his battalion were fired upon on leaving Ginchey Wood. Bodies fell all around him. Fred again survived but a shot- wound in the right thigh resulted in the need for amputation.
Unlike many soldiers, Fred shared his war experiences openly to educate others. He gave a number of local talks. In the trenches Fred composed a piece called “The Hero’s Thoughts”, recited during a concert in Chulmleigh Town Hall in February 1916. Unfortunately the words to this are now lost.
pin tap tho ‘eel = upon the top of the hill
thickey there = this
baint = am not, aren’t
clattering huzzies = talkative housewives
5. Chawleigh to Lapford
Gathering several passengers along Chawleigh village, the bus takes the toad towards Labbatt’s Cross, to pick up some more folk, when on it goes to Pouncer’s Cross; a sharp turn here leads to Lapford Forches.
At every point, someone is picked up, many having walked miles across country to reach a connecting link with the bus.
The scenery is truly magnificent; it is very high, and permits distant views on three sides, including a wide range of the Dartmoor hills. There is something very exquisite about the next mile or two, downhill; there are sweet-smelling clover fields, acres golden barley and wheat shimmering in the sunshine, acres of beet and turnips, while the soil itself is a deep, rich red. A heavily-goggled stone-cracker is busy at the side of the road, the hedges are thick with blackberries in their red-black stage, and the sky seems to touch the earth in the distance.
Some way down the bus runs into the charming village Lapford, which is the last picking-up place, and the venue of amusing incident. There is short, flat stretch, and on the crest of the downward sweep through the village, the bus adds a regular passenger going to town with farm produce. About fifteen yards further down the slope, another regular passenger joins the company, but even if the bus has wait a few moments for the first one, the second waits at her gate for it to stop again. The same maintains on the upward return journey, until it has become a matter of amusing conjecture whether the rule will be broken, why these two member the weaker sex do not get on together, and whether good-natured, smiling Mr. Turner will stop half-way between the two spots.
Continuing down the hill, the old Malt Scoop Inn is passed on the left, and the lovely square-towered old church with fine horse chestnut trees in its yard, on the right.
There are sweet-smelling clover fields, acres of golden barley and wheat shimmering in the sunshine
The village is intensely pretty, and the gardens are fragrant with blooms— there are rambler roses in profusion, sweet-peas, claret-hued dahlias, a fine buddleia, hydrangeas, and plenty of lavender. The cottages have the refreshing attraction natural to unspoilt places.
Down, down, goes the bus, until, to the right, the tower of Coleridge Church stands out nobly on a distant hill, and a tiny Post Office is passed, nestling near Lapford beside the stream. Here is Lapford Station and also the junction with the main Exeter road again.
Across the railway, stand the Ambrosia works, from which come Virol and. Milk Chocolate. The Ambrosia lorries may be seen for miles around collecting the milk, which is utilised their products, from the farms.
At every point someone is picked up, many having walked miles across the country
A Piece of Devon on Earth
The article writer’s description of Lapford, “fragrant with blooms”, sounds befitting of a village chosen to manufacture Ambrosia— food of the gods. Paradoxically, it is a charm that the factory, then less than two years old, would change. The factory brought village development and an influx of people. With it, perhaps something of Lapford’s innocent allure may have been lost.
There were local objections but in his book The Changing Village, F G Thomas saw Ambrosia’s arrival as progress:
“The dowdy and dull dress of the village girl has been replaced by smart clothes, showing the influence of trips to the town and the cinema; the fresh, wholesome assurance of their bearing contrasts most favourably with the demeanour of “the country maid”.
The Ambrosia factory certainly breathed new life into a village which had been ailing since the demise of the serge weaving industry. With so many villagers employed by the factory there was a new-found community spirit . The factory also helped preserve the livelihoods of local farmers. The “acres of golden barley and golden wheat”, seen from the Turner’s Tours bus, were soon replaced by more profitable green fields of dairy cattle, who provided the factory’s primary raw ingredient.
The factory closed in the 1970s and is now used for storage; the post-office moved many years ago from the mill to the village centre; and the job of the goggled stone-cracker disappeared with the tarmacking of the road. But, the church still stands tall, with new village green space providing an improved view; children still collect conkers from the same horse-chestnuts; the soil is still deep ruby-red; and, the descent into Lapford, with its panorama of the Dartmoor hills, still provides a “wow” factor, even to villagers who are accustomed to it.
6. Lapford to Barnstaple Cross
Following the main Exeter road, the bus runs along to Morchard Road where a very sunny inn always looks most inviting—The Sturt Arms —and on past this are the quarries. Then, over Bury bridge, and the short run to Bradiford bridge, with lovely slopes of golden corn on either side, leads to the Okehampton—Bow cross-roads, and pretty, straggling Copplestone with its clean-looking little stone school.
The loam is getting a less deep red tint and there are acres upon acres of well-cultivated land before the heavenly dip into Sandford Valley is reached. The gold corn and barley fields are a lovely picture particularly when waving in the slight breeze, and the neighbouring hills are distinctly suggestive of volcanic conditions at some period, their curves beautiful and smooth.
The next landmark is Barnstaple Cross, where the bus does a little passenger decanting. When this happens, the kindly conductress alights to assist, and it frequently happens that she is scarcely aboard when the bus restarts, for which her husband receives a humorous teasing. Not often does a man elope with a whole bevy of women, much less a crowd of witnesses, but at Barnstaple Cross, what ho!, off went the bus, Mr. Turner’s face placidly wreathed in smiles, and Mrs. Turner left well behind on the road. His effort, all unconsciousness, was greeted with whoops and laughs, until he woke up to the fact that something must be happening, and he stopped the bus.
the driver is so obviously devoted to his conductress
Merry quips were hurled at him thoroughly well, and the moment was full of fun, for the driver is so obviously devoted to his conductress, who was soon aboard once more. There was almost an accident on one journey, when a woman driving a Baby Austin cut in, across the front of the big bus; not one word was audible, but from the set jaws at the near shave, it is probable volumes were thought. On another journey, a woman newly from the town was ecstatic over the scenery, when a country-woman proffered the suggestion that the beauty was only appreciated by town folk; the country folk did not notice it. A little further some cattle emerged from a gateway, accompanied a tiny goat. “What a dear little calf !” ejaculated the country-woman, to the delight the other, who laughingly suggested that townspeople would have called the tiny creature —a goat. It was one of the good humoured moments which add to the joy of a beautiful ride.
Towards Morchard Road
The quarry just outside Lapford was a large concern, supplying stone for the repair of the county’s roads. Vehicles on the A377 still cross the River Yeo on Bury Bridge, and Bradiford Bridge still stands a few meters away although the leet to Bugford mill no longer flows below it. Near the bridges is the deep Bradiford weir pool where otters could escape local otter huntsmen. It may have the huntsmen bane, but as a safe breed ground it perpetuated their bloody sport for many years until hunting and river “management” had completely decimated the otter population. At the time of the bus journey, the novel Tarka the Otter was at the height of its popularity, and the area has since revelled in the nostalgia of being Tarka Country. Only in recent years has the otter returned.
The article suggests that the Sturt Arms was arrived at before the quarry and bridges. It is, in fact, a further mile up the road and today trades as The Devonshire Dumpling.
7. Barnstaple Cross to Downes
Off went the bus towards Crediton, where, almost the first building, right on the top of the hill, is the High School for girls, for which, two clever little Chulmleigh girls have just won scholarships. They are Marjorie Mair, daughter of Mr. William Mair, and Monica Penney, daughter of Mr. A. H. Penny. Not many yards away stands Crediton Grammar School for boys, where the bus passes into the town-proper, behind the main street of which can be seen the Cathedral-like church on the left. Down goes the bus near the station at the bottom of the hill, where it careers away slightly to the left, past Downes, the old home of General Buller, beloved of Devon folk; there is more pasture land, with beautiful green trees, about this district.
The educational opportunities for girls were considerably limited compared to boys. So it was quite newsworthy that two Chumleigh girls had won a scholarship to Crediton Girls School. Monica Penney was the daughter of the local pharmacist, whereas Marjorie’s father was a home furnisher. Marjorie went on to gain a first class degree in Mathematics with the University of London. An unusual achievement for a girl from rural Devon. However, opportunities for women were few. She returned to live in Chulmleigh and played an active role in the Congregational Church, the Old Fair and organising occasional local concerts.
The local hero of Downes
At the time of the bus journey, General Redvers Buller was still well remembered in the area. His funeral at Crediton in 1908 had attracted thousands of people. He was a military figure of national importance and source of great local pride; he was born and died at Downe’s.
Redvers (pronounced Reevers), won a Victoria Cross in the Zulu War, rescuing a number of colleagues under fire. He also served in Egypt, Sudan and Ireland, but it wasn’t until 1899, when his military career was seemingly coming to an end, that he became a household name. He was surprising selected to lead Britain’s 50,000-strong army into the Second Boer War despite being in his sixities and pastured in a top desk jobs for the last decade. At the time it was the largest force Britain had ever sent into combat overseas.
The Boers were well equipped and their methods and mobility suited the terrain. Expecting an easy victory, the British found themselves suffering defeats. The siege of Ladysmith proved a last straw and Buller was sacked from his top command (even though the siege had come about due to Buller’s advice not being followed by one of his Generals). Buller still remained in command of a large body of men, and despite further defeats he quickly developed new military tactics for combating the guerrilla fighting of the Boers. Many of these became standard army practice and were used to great effect in WW1. They changed the tide of the Boer War and when Ladysmith was finally relieved Buller was once more regarded as a national hero.
He still had his critics and an attempt to defend his reputation, following an attack by a national newspaper reporter, saw him suspended from the army and retirement to his beloved Downes.
He had a reputation as a people’s champion and remained hugely popular particularly amongst the working classes. Today Redvers Buller has become more controversial as modern society looks to re-evaluate the lives of key figures from Britain’s imperialist past. Buller’s association with the Boer concentration camps has, in particular, come under criticism
General Sir Redvers Buller’s funeral procession, Crediton, 1908
8. Downes to Cowley Bridge
Over the River Yeo and the railway bridge, the immediate loam takes a lighter hue, the young seed coming through in distant fields giving exactly the colour effect of a heavy bloom rich wine.
The next village on the bus route is Newton St. Cyres, which is a long, fascinating little place, with clean white cottages and thatched roofs, and a quaint Inn—The Crown and Sceptre. Away on the left, Upton Pyne is passed, and the bus runs by the lovely grounds of the lddlesleigh home—Pynes—until the approach to Cowley Bridge; that bit of Devon surrounded by woods, green pastures and rich old trees, near which the River Creedy flows into the Exe. It is not far from Cowley Bridge, in beautiful country, that the rivers Culm and Creedy unite to flow into the Exe.
the colour effect of a heavy bloom red wine
Pynes was seat of Northcote family who were given a hereditary Earldom under Queen Victoria. The first earl took the title Earl of Iddesleigh.
Those traveling on the bus past the extensive grounds of the Pynes estate would still have remembered the Northcote’s period of great influence. The 2nd Earl, Walter Stafford Northcote, who had recently died, had a brother who had been the Governor of Australia, another who had been Governor of Hong Kong, whilst his father had held the positions of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and joint leader of the Conservative Party. It was the 2nd Earl who generated interest in Pynes by suggesting, possibly correctly, that the house was the inspiration for the setting of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Pynes was sold by the 5th Earl in 1998 and is now a wedding venue.
8. Cowley Bridge to Exeter
The bridge crossed, the bus runs to the right, following the railway track to the city, with the river close by, and on its far side the pretty Exwick village. On the left it passes the lower gates of the Duryard estate, and, before reaching St Davids Station, turns up the hill behind the Imperial Hotel, and the dear little almshouses with their gardens, passing Hele’s School and the Buller Memorial. Here, the run continues up Queen Street to the terminus in Paul Street, the passengers dissemble until the return of the bus at five o’clock. Sometimes, the return load is so heavy that the bus takes one lot home to Chulmleigh and returns again to collect the remaining passengers.
The journey is twenty-five miles of natural splendour, which is always a varying feast for the eye. Throughout the summer, the hedges have been a glory from days they were massed with primroses, bluebells, and wild hyacinths. Next, they with a perfect sheen of white and pink wild-roses, which were followed by stately foxgloves in profusion, then by foxgloves, the marvellous perfume of which scented the roadways. Now the blackberries are red and black; the common ground presents a dusty-petunia effect with the heather, just coming into bloom; the lower reaches are aglow with the pinky-red glycerine-like clusters of waterberries, growing near the water and giving a lovely touch of colour to the greenery around.
August 24th, 1930. WHIMSICUS.
twenty-five miles of natural splendour
End of the Road
When the article writer’s bus drew into Exeter in 1930, the city still had trams but tourist coaches and buses, like that of Turner’s Tours, were becoming a regular sight. The city was without a proper bus terminal—the bus station in Paul Street, referred to, was then little more than a piece of waste ground created after ‘slum clearance’. The waste ground was not officially leased as a bus station until the end of the year.
The area had once been a vibrant community surrounding St Pauls Church, with some wealthy merchant houses of architectural merit. Like many slum clearances, little consideration was given to what was being destroyed.
The Paul Street bus station remained an eyesore for some time. It eventually became a smartened facility and for nearly 25 years was the gateway to Exeter for thousands of tourists. The bus station eventually moved across town and Paul Street became soulless, darkened by the featureless walls of shopping development. Paul Street has been described as “a slab sided canyon of red brick and composite façade”1 —the church of St Pauls and its vibrant community are long gone.
The slum-cleared waste ground might seem an inappropriate end for Turner’s Tours scenic bus route. But, the Turners were known for their humour, and it is in some ways fitting that this bus of smiles should end its journey almost on the very spot where Fredrick Westcott (later Fed Karno) was born. He discovered Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan and Allen, Max Miller and Stan Laurel and is credited with investing the custard pie in the face routine. So, next time you travel down Paul Street raise a smile—perhaps there is a funny side to this most laughable piece of 20th century development 🙂